Blogs, Blog Camps, and a Thousand Words

[This is in continuation of a discussion that started on PuneTech, on Navin‘s Blog about BlogCamp Pune 2. Although I wasn’t planning to attend the blog camp, I got sucked into the discussion, and then Dhananjay left a request for comment, of sorts]

I started typing a response and it became so long that I decided to make a blog-post out of it. This is what you’ll find here (don’t tell me I didn’t warn you):

  1. Why I blog, and ruminations on blogging, reach, and value.
  2. Thoughts on blogging cultures, and types of blog
  3. Thoughts on blog camps

However, since it started in the context of Dhananjay’s comment/ruminations, I’ll treat this as a response, rather than a self-sufficient post.

I. The Context:

Dhananjay talks about reach and value:

Even if conducted for expression, my belief is there is an implicit objective if the blog is public (as opposed to local on your desktop). That objective is reach. Even if blogging for self in terms of overall value, the value is maximized by reaching out to the maximum people. Taking this premise for granted (for a moment)

It’s a non-sequitur: “objective being reach” implying “blogging value being maximized by reaching out to maximum people”. Why is it a non-sequitur? Because reach is not a value qua itself. All you’re guaranteed to maximize by reaching out to maximum people is, simply (circular as it may sound) reach. But is reach a value in itself? Or a means to other values? What is a blogging value?

Let’s say, I am so depressed that I want to kill myself (but not really). I type a suicide note on my computer. Leave it there. Then it strikes me: “hey I can post this on my blog”. Objective is reach, I concede. But all I want to reach is ‘one’ person who’d make an effort to stop me from killing myself (convince me otherwise, pamper me, tell me it’s not that bad, generally pay attention to me). My value is not maximized by the blog hitting the New York Times Blog Watch Column (if there is such a thing). Maybe 99% of those people wouldn’t give a damn, if I were to kill myself. I might even have police knocking on my doors, later, when I actually don’t kill myself. My value might be maximized if I were to reach close friends who read my blog (and possibly know me as a person, not just a handle).

Of course, that’s an extreme example, and not a very apt. But just so …

Secondly, while reach might be a value, I might not want to maximize it. I might want to leave it to chance, or even, leave it to the relevance of my content to the reading likes/dislikes of the readers out there (why? read on).

Thirdly, maximizing reach can actually reduce the value I’m seeking from a blog. Too many random people reading my blog, and leaving too many useless comments, or having some irrelevant debate on my comment-space, might just hide more ‘valueable’ comments for me, depending on what I see as ‘value’. Knowing the argumentative person that I am, it might even suck me into those irrelevant debates, when I could be just sitting and writing more of what I actually want to write.

II. Why Do I Blog?

For me, blogging is about these values (there are others, which do not matter to me personally):

  1. I want to see ‘critical’ feedback (positive/negative) that might help me write better (itself a very shifting target), or that might encourage me to keep on writing at all (quality, motivation, throughput).
  2. I want a validation that someone ‘gets’ what I wanted to say in a blog (indirectly: motivation, connection)
  3. I want a coherent response from the ‘other’ camp, on blogs where I take a position (learning?).
  4. I want to reach like minded people, who would hang around the blog, forming a niche community. I might or might not actually love their works in turn. If I do, I might hang around on their blogs in turn. I might connect with them online/offline (relationships?).

I don’t see reaching as many people as I can necessarily maximises all these values (not even talking about the diminishing marginal gain). The effort to reach might not even be worth my time (may decrease learning, quality throughput, because I end up doing what I don’t want to be doing). I could live with the good old chance encounters that bring people to my blog — through the good old linking by blogging directories or other bloggers. Too many wrong readers (although some might believe that there is no such thing), might decrease my motivation. Change in my blog variety, due to value focus, might reduce my core audience, thus further decreasing my motivation. Too much interaction might reduce chance of deeper relationships with fewer core audience that I can have. Stress on value focus might decrease my drive to experiment, and ultimately hamper the overall quality of my blog (stilted growth). And so on …

III. Value Focus, Promotion, and Blogger’s paradox:

(Again, excerpts from Dhananjay’s comment:)

I see blogging as a triad of factors (quadrant if being done for commercially)

a. Expression : The very essence which defined (whats been described as) first generation blogging
b. Promotion : The act of promoting the blog to maximise the reach
c. Value Focus : The act of figuring out and being driven by an attempt to maximising the value to a target audience.
d. Monetisation : The act of attempting to make money out of the blog.

Note that (b) per se is not important except that it helps enhancing the reach.

I think the diarised blogs can attempt to do service all three (or even the fourth) of the factors.

The assumption, again, is that maximizing reach is maximizing values for them (the bloggers: diariazed or otherwise). Not a sound assumption, as I have already discussed. So although they can, they might not care to enchance their reach, beyond a point.

Secondly: what is of value to the target audience, might not be of value to the blogger. I might find more value in two readers who like to read what I write, than having 200 who want me to write more of what they like. Focus is of value, only if you see value in a higher readership. The problem is: the value focus may change with changing reader dynamics; while the blogger’s notion of value might not.

In my limited observation they focus on point (a) and not so much on the remaining. And somewhere deep down I think it is not so much passion as a deliberate or indeliberate act of not attempting to address factors (b) or (c). And if I have to speculate, there’s perhaps a germ of a thought that (b) and (c) will somehow impurify a blog.

Impurity is an emotional/philosophical/quasi-religious (after all, blogging has become close to religion for some) take on it. The other might be purely practical. Unless one sees one’s value(s) maximized/increased due to (b) and (c), what is the incentive?

For instance, I’m okay with promoting my blog, to an extent — where it gets me more of the kind of readership that I want.  I don’t want a lot of readers who do not identify with what I write. I don’t mind them reading my blog, of course. But I don’t see it of much value. Afterall, blog for me isn’t occupation, it is diversion. Their comments don’t help me make a head and tail out of what’s working and what’s not. I cannot have a meaningful discussion with them. I’m intellectually snobbish, let’s say.

Bigger problem is (c). Focusing on delivering what is of value to a readership (which I might/might-not want) is just defeating the whole purpose of why I’m blogging in the first place. Again, not for the reasons of purity, or alliance to a cause, or any such lofty notions. Simply this: I blog, because I want to write what I want to. And there is no editor telling me: “hey, no one wants to read this crap”. Well, maybe no one does. I hope someone does. And I am open to (b) to find that someone (reach him/her). Although I wouldn’t spend too much effort on it, as it’s a effort vs gain tradeoff. And I’d not just publicize indiscriminately, hoping that I’ll find all those someones, and end up with having to manage a readership that I don’t connect with (and who doesn’t connect with the real me).

So my question is whether are factors (b) and (c) the defining differentiation which some bloggers adopt and some don’t ? And could it be that not attempting to address (c) leads to some readers to classify these as not interesting ?

I’m sure there are bloggers who adopt (b) but not (c). Or (c) but not (b), hoping (c) would take care of (b). And so on. But I don’t think those are the reasons why readers will classify blogs/bloggers as not-interesting.

For one, if a reader has actually reached a blog (it’s only then that they can say it’s not intresting), (b) becomes irrelevant.

For two, if a reader doesn’t find ‘value focus’, s/he might stop following the blog, because, finally it’s all about “is it worth my time?”. So, yes, (c) does affect “overall interest quotient” of a blog. But then, a lot of blog readers are used to selectively reading a blogger’s posts. With tags/categories, it’s easier. Most of the time, they also rely not upon a blogger’s history, but rather the history of the one who “relays” the blogs — say desipundit/blogbharti/… or even other bloggers/commentors who recommend blogs.

In short: value focus is more relevant to blogs who want (d), IMO. Or to those who see “more followers” == “more value” (nothing wrong with that, either: and I think that connection is more true, again, for those who want to monetize their blog).

That bring me to the class of readers who want spontanity and verietry (I’m one of them). Readers who’ve turned to blogs, as mainstream media’s value-focus has not worked for them?

Going back to questioning the very premise I suggested – is it appropriate to factor in reach as a deliberate objective of the blog or does it somewhere dilute the original essence of blogging which was focused on expression. My response to this is that the decision is blogger specific and blogging is ready to accept this diversity.

Reach might be a deliberate objective of blogging. Nothing wrong with that. And yes, the perception of dilution is blogger specific. I might see it as a dilution — changing what I write, or how I write, or when I write, to see more people following my blog. That’s changing/diluting my brand (even if it’s not too successful, in terms of number of hits, say). And I won’t do it, not because I have philosophical qualms about dilution. I just don’t blog for maximizing readership, and not just for doubts raised above. I blog for expressing what I feel (expression), or to share creative pieces that I wrote (literary experimentation), or because there is an urge to vent out (catheretic). And through it, I may have a dialog with my readers (whatever count). What use is it for me to either restrict my writing choices for value focus, or writing more (frequently) to keep readers interested in the blog?

IV. Blogging Culture and Self  vs Reader Centric Blogs:

Now that practical reasons are out of the way, there remains the issue of a blogging culture that one is comfortable with. Is there a blogging culture that I’m more comfortable with, that I feel at home? Yes, there is. And that blogging culture is the culture is defined by some shared values. I will like more bloggers to be more spontaneous, than focus driven. But that’s a purely selfish preference. I enjoy reading spontaneous, irrelevant, irreverent blogs more than blogs that are more like newspaper articles, even well researched. For me the key differentiation of media is this: spontaneous, self-driven, self-sufficient, creator centric media as contrasting to focused, readerships/viewer-ship/revenue driven, consumer centric media.

I’d not say anything that belongs to former camp is a blog, while anything that belongs to latter is something else. Blog, as I look at it, is simply a self-published journal shared on the internet. A few years back, maybe, the mainstream media fell entirely in the second camp, and blogs entirely in the first camp; but even then, there were exceptions. For instance, lot of filmmakers make films that only a few understand, ditto for writers and so on. They don’t think their value is maximized by reaching maximum number of viewers/readers. Even though by doing that they might maximize monetary gains (which is itself a value for many, if not most). Some perish, because they cannot reach enough to finance their next venture (in terms of time or money), thus losing all value, except a satisfaction that they created what they wanted to, at all cost. I’ll count them in the former camp — creator centric media.

Then there will be media that tries to optimize both the value to the creator, and to the consumer, and end up maximizing both, or diminishing both, based on how right/wrong their moves turn out in the hindsight.
V. Summary and Thoughts on Blog Camps:

So then, all these few thousands words said just this:

  1. Value maximization is not a necessarily linked with reach maximization.
  2. Blogging is not about purity of expression. It’s very varied. But for a blogger, it can mean a specific subset/sub-culture.
  3. Promotion/Value-focuse (for viewership) is not relevant to all bloggers.
  4. All media is creator centric or consumer centric. Or an overlap of the two. Blogs are no exception.

Now to the issue of Blog Camps.

I did not participate in the recently concluded Pune Blog Camp 2. I think after reading this post, the reasons are more or less obvious. Will I ever attend a blog-camp? Probably not. It is just not value for time. But then I’ve spent lot of time writing this! I was always a man of contradictions.

I probably prefer much more informal gatherings. With no power-point presentations. No agenda. No real gyaan. Sure I’d like to meet people, for all my self-confessed snobbery. I’d so love meeting Atul, although I hope it will be in a much smaller group, over a relaxed evening. I’d like to meet Anumita, and tell her in person, how big a fan I’m of her simple style. Ditto with Scarlett, who writes with a lovely flow. I’d like to meet Parikrama, and listen to his male Bridget Jones’s Diary excerpts, or meet Punds and chat with him about his various posts. Or meet up with La Louve, the crazy Marsian, and get beaten up for all the past sins. The list is long.

Then there are those I don’t know of yet, but I’d enjoy meeting. But not in a setting of a unconference/conference, with agenda, presentations, and topical discussions. Blogger’s meet? Bloggers Bash? Amateur Bloggers Camp, maybe? Whatever you call it.

Phew. Now I need some coffee. And anyone who’s read this so far, I’d advise popping in a couple of Disprins. Besides, you seriously need to get a life, and so do I.

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24 thoughts on “Blogs, Blog Camps, and a Thousand Words

  1. anumita says:

    whew!! amazing!
    i admit i didnt read it through and through but got the gist of it and i wholly totally agree with you. it humbles me to be mentioned as someone whose blog you like. yes, we shall meet soon.

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